Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

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KappaP
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Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by KappaP » February 11th, 2010, 2:34 am

Hey! So I've spent too many weeks/months brutalizing everyone's queries and so today I'll give you a chance to return the favor. The problem as I see it-- not problem, challenge-- is that this is strrrrrraight out literary fiction, which I find is harder to write a standard query for. Very character driven, very theme based. For my first round of queries, I went with the standard short synopsis query format, but I always found it unsatisfying and impossible for giving the story the proper angle. So anyway, last week I decided (after a beer or two) to just totally revamp and basically do my query in a very non-standard format that-- I'm hoping-- gives a better sense of character and turmoil. Instead of doing a synopsis, I've decided to take a very short moment from the story (this is, however, NOT an excerpt at all; its a retelling of a moment within the story), expand it out and try and fit the conflicts of the story into that scene as they will relate to the characters. So read it with that in mind-- I am not going for a synopsis style query. But, of course, stepping outside of the status quo requires me to do it very well, which is where y'all come in!

Thanks so much for your help and feel free to be as ruthless with red for me as I have been with you.

[Personalized bit]. SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of mainstream literary fiction exploring American notions of fate, individualism and community through a doomed love between two girls in small-town Kentucky.

The girls’ basketball state championship is over, trophies awarded, and as people filter out of the arena, they flow around a well-dressed girl with wealthy poise standing transfixed at the edge of the now empty court. Cal Painter doesn’t notice them. As her boat shoes toe the sidelines, all she sees is the girl across the court in the #4 jersey still breathing hard from dominating the state-title game.

They’ve never met. If Cal paid a quarter as much attention to her high school’s sports teams as anyone else in Miles, Kentucky, she’d know that #4 is the prodigious and much-despised star of Miles’ rival team. Jan Bond: The Ruthless Machine.

When Cal looks at Jan, she doesn’t realize this girl will be her salvation from a life of lethargy. Cal was born with money, charm and luck; all she wants is something to fight for. In the flashbulbs stealing Jan’s image for a front-page story, Cal doesn’t see the ever-watching eyes that will force her and Jan to love each other in secret or the scrutiny that will crucify them once they’re exposed.

Severing the reality of a town idol from her image is painful, but Cal isn’t thinking of how she’ll deal with it. She only lets her faithfulness to people’s expectations and perceptions drift away with the crowd and smiles as the familiar, hollow ache of ennui begins to disappear.

The usually eloquent and confident Cal stutters “good game” as Jan walks past, and Jan’s shy “thank you” sits like an anchor in Cal’s chest. As Jan throws a curious glance at Cal before walking into the locker room, Cal doesn’t know she should be worried about the future or wary of fate.

All she feels is a strengthening pulse of reviving, terrifying love.


Does this work at all? Can you get a sense of plot even without it explained right out? Like I said, I know it can be risky to do something out of the ordinary so I want to make sure I'm doing it well if I'm doing it at all. Thanks so much guys, I appreciate it!
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by christi » February 11th, 2010, 9:16 am

I think you have an interesting concept here and it sounds like something I would read. However, querying an agent about this sort of work is difficult and instead of using a bunch of red ink to rework what you have, I'm going to give you a couple of links that are supposed to be helpful in writing that elusive query for literary fiction.

http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2007/10/bl ... rt-iv.html

http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2007/10/bl ... art-v.html

I really hope this helps you and gives you a good starting point. Don't get me wrong, it sounds like a really good book, but the query letter is everything at this point and you want to make an awesome impression. Good luck!
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Holly » February 11th, 2010, 9:40 am

Hi, KappaP. You write well and your story intrigues me, but you should prepare a standard query. Summarizing your story into one or two paragraphs is really, really hard to do, but you can do it. Think of it this way: you're applying for a writing job and the query is the Big Bad Bugaboo on the application.

I found this helpful: http://edittorrent.blogspot.com/2009/04 ... -neat.html If you do these exercises, they will help you find the main themes and conflicts and get them into one paragraph. Good luck. I'm rooting for you.

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by austincambridge » February 11th, 2010, 10:02 am

KappaP wrote:
[Personalized bit]. SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of mainstream literary fiction exploring American notions of fate, individualism and community through a doomed love between two girls in small-town Kentucky. I would move this to the end of the query and kick off with the next paragraph.
The girls’ basketball state championship is over, trophies awarded, and as people spectators filter fileout of the arena, they flow around a well-dressed girl with wealthy poise standingstands transfixed at the edge of the now empty court. Cal Painter doesn’t notice them. As her boat shoes toe the sidelines, all she Cal sees is the girl across the court in the #4 jersey still breathing hard from dominating the state-title game.

They’ve never met. If Cal paid a quarter as much attention to her high school’s sports teams as anyone else in Miles, Kentucky, she’d know that #4 is Jan Bond, the prodigious and much-despised star of Miles’ rival team. Jan Bond: The Ruthless Machine.
When Cal looks at Jan, she doesn’t realize this girl will be her salvation from a life of lethargy???. Cal was born with money, charm and luck; all she wants is something to fight for. In the flashbulbs stealing Jan’s image for a front-page story, I don't understand the preceding sentenceCal doesn’t see the ever-watching eyes that will force her and Jan to love each other in secret or the scrutiny that will crucify them once they’re exposed.

Severing the reality of a town idol from her image is painful, but Cal isn’t thinking of how she’ll deal with it. She only lets her faithfulness to people’s expectations and perceptions drift away with the crowd and smiles as the familiar, Everything before this is unclearhollow ache of ennui begins to disappear.

The usually eloquent and confident Cal stutters “good game” as Jan walks past, and Jan’s shy “thank you” sits like an anchor in Cal’s chest. As Jan throws a curious glance at Cal before walking into the locker room, Cal doesn’t know she should be worried about the future or wary of fate.
Don't start a new paragraph. The next sentence should end the preceding paragraph.
All she feels is a strengthening pulse of reviving, terrifying love. Blend this paragraph into an earlier paragraph. It's out of place here.


Does this work at all? Can you get a sense of plot even without it explained right out? Like I said, I know it can be risky to do something out of the ordinary so I want to make sure I'm doing it well if I'm doing it at all. Thanks so much guys, I appreciate it!
I like the premise of the story, but truthfully, I'm not seeing anything out of the ordinary as far as the query format goes. Reads pretty much like a standard query

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Remus Shepherd » February 11th, 2010, 10:47 am

KappaP wrote: Does this work at all? Can you get a sense of plot even without it explained right out? Like I said, I know it can be risky to do something out of the ordinary so I want to make sure I'm doing it well if I'm doing it at all. Thanks so much guys, I appreciate it!
It certainly is different. I get a very good sense of the character interaction and *possible* arcs -- but I don't know what the actual character arcs will be. You've given us a setting, characters, and a starting intrigue, but I have no idea where it goes from that beginning. There's no plot element at all.

That might appeal to an agent, if they value characterization and description over plot, which often seems to be the case in literary fiction. I just don't know.

In fact, what you do have seems to contradict the short summary of 'doomed love between two girls'. In the excerpt, Cal and Jan just meet. If Cal is a lesbian, she has no apparent reason to expect Jan to be. But that's a nitpick -- you gave an excerpt from what looks like the very beginning of the story. I question whether that's a wise choice, as the early chapters are what you're likely to send the agent with the query anyway.

I think I like your plan, but I'd rather see a later vignette with the girls. At some point after they are together, there must be a moment when they know their love is doomed. That moment might be an excerpt that will give a better sense of plot and still contain the characterization you want to show.

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by KappaP » February 12th, 2010, 4:32 am

Ah! Great advice, thanks everyone. I have prepared a standard synopsis style query and have sent it out, so I'm not trying to avoid that, I just feel like it rings really hollow. Thanks for the links to the query writing for lit fic, I have tried to find something like that and haven't done so well with it. Will definitely check it out and see what's going on. Unfortunately, the plot of the book just simply isn't what makes it unique and so having to write super plot focused queries-- I think-- focuses on the wrong thing and makes it sound super standard. Will keep whittling away.
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Sea » February 12th, 2010, 6:48 am

Maybe you should post your more 'standard' synopsis here too for us to critique it? I think it's possibly to really show characters personalities rather than make it all about the plot, yet still give a more comprehensive overview of the book...

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by KappaP » February 12th, 2010, 7:46 am

Good call-- here's the original that I had before I started totally retooling. You know how you just get way too close to the material and have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees? That's totally where I am and I'm past the point where I can accurately gauge how well things are coming across. I appreciate the help!

As people filter out of the arena after the basketball state championship, Cal Painter stands at the edge of the now empty court staring at a girl who will become her hope, her salvation and her downfall. Number 4, Jan Bond: the shy and beautiful basketball prodigy despised by everyone in Cal’s town for the talent she brings to their rival team. But as Cal watches Jan, all she feels is attraction burning its way through her stomach.

Blue-blooded and mercurial, Cal is no stranger to small-town fascination and fantasy. In Miles, Kentucky, her brilliance is the talk of her teachers, her family’s wealth the talk of general store clerks and her singleness the talk of boys in her high school. Away from the spotlight, however, Cal is haunted by ennui and guilt over her effortless fortune.

For months, thoughts about Jan help Cal escape her private misery. When Jan’s family moves to Miles, it ignites the town’s long-simmering championship dreams and gives Cal a new companion in the intense glare of community interest. But as the two girls find respite from their local celebrity in each other, their friendship morphs into an intense and secretive romance.

The closer love brings Cal and Jan to finding their true selves in the sludge of other people’s expectations and false perceptions, the further it drags them from the idolization that has always defined them. When the relationship is exposed, Cal, Jan and the people of Miles are forced into a desperate bid to reconcile public fantasy with private reality and to find beauty in a love many don’t know how to accept.

SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of literary fiction exploring the intersection of fatalism and free will as well as modern America’s struggle to understand same-sex love.

Thoughts? Better, worse? Combine the two? Take this manuscript and punt it into a fire?
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by cjtrapp » February 12th, 2010, 3:10 pm

Your "original" is much better. The one you posted first has a POV error, IMO.

The girls’ basketball state championship is over, trophies awarded, and as people filter out of the arena, they flow around a well-dressed girl with wealthy poise standing transfixed at the edge of the now empty court. Cal Painter doesn’t notice them. As her boat shoes toe the sidelines, all she sees is the girl across the court in the #4 jersey still breathing hard from dominating the state-title game.

If the story is from Cal' perspective, then how do we know about the people flowing around her? Also, I had to read it a couple of times to realize that Cal was the well-dressed girl.

As for the original, watch out for cliches. her hope, her salvation, her downfall. The rest of the story sounds so much more interesting!

One other thing: Shy and beautiful, prodigy but despised? I see where you are going, but rarely is a high-school prodigy despised, even by a rival if they are shy, unassuming, a good sport, etc. It is possible, I suppose, but maybe Jan needs more of an edge. Or maybe your statement should be more descriptive. "despised by everyone in Cal's town for her merciless three-point barrages and effortless talent."

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by MaryAnn » February 12th, 2010, 3:53 pm

You need to date this somehow. If this is the present, it will be hard to sell that they will be "crucified" once found out. Then on the other hand, it is high school. But in 2010??

Sounds like a Contemporary Young Adult novel. Are you sending to the Agents who represent this kind of novel?

Cal sounds like a guys name. I had to re-read once or twice to figure out that, yes, these are two girls. Consider making one or both names more obviously female.

Never stray from the query format desired by the agent you are sending it to.

Hope this all helps.

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Holly » February 12th, 2010, 7:52 pm

KappaP wrote:Good call-- here's the original that I had before I started totally retooling. You know how you just get way too close to the material and have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees? That's totally where I am and I'm past the point where I can accurately gauge how well things are coming across. I appreciate the help!

As people filter out of the arena after the basketball state championship, Cal Painter stands at the edge of the now empty court staring at a girl who will become her hope, her salvation and her downfall. Number 4, Jan Bond: the shy and beautiful basketball prodigy despised by everyone in Cal’s town for the talent she brings to their rival team. But as Cal watches Jan, all she feels is attraction burning its way through her stomach.

Blue-blooded and mercurial, Cal is no stranger to small-town fascination and fantasy. In Miles, Kentucky, her brilliance is the talk of her teachers, her family’s wealth the talk of general store clerks and her singleness the talk of boys in her high school. Away from the spotlight, however, Cal is haunted by ennui and guilt over her effortless fortune.

For months, thoughts about Jan help Cal escape her private misery. When Jan’s family moves to Miles, it ignites the town’s long-simmering championship dreams and gives Cal a new companion in the intense glare of community interest. But as the two girls find respite from their local celebrity in each other, their friendship morphs into an intense and secretive romance.

The closer love brings Cal and Jan to finding their true selves in the sludge of other people’s expectations and false perceptions, the further it drags them from the idolization that has always defined them. When the relationship is exposed, Cal, Jan and the people of Miles are forced into a desperate bid to reconcile public fantasy with private reality and to find beauty in a love many don’t know how to accept.

SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of literary fiction exploring the intersection of fatalism and free will as well as modern America’s struggle to understand same-sex love.

Thoughts? Better, worse? Combine the two? Take this manuscript and punt it into a fire?
I'm no expert, but the original seems quite good. It's also about 300 words, so you have space for agent personalization and a bio line. Good luck.

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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by KappaP » February 12th, 2010, 9:08 pm

I verrrrrry much disagree that this type of situation wouldn't be met with harsh disagreement in even 2010. Maybe not in some parts of the country, but homophobia on a severity level of "crucification" is absolutely (and unfortunately) a serious reality even in modern times. It's also not young adult at all-- my biggest struggle in writing the query is making that clear. This is a very dark book and, while it could be read by a young adult audience, it is in no way designed for them. The narrator is not young adult either: he's an adult telling the story retrospectively (so, even if the characters are young, they're explained through an adult voice). I've left the narrator out of the query b/c his job in the story is to observe, not act, and his presence in the query would distract. But he's introduced in the synopsis and the narration point is clarified. For a query, though, it would be too name-dumpy and add another character whose relationship would have to be explained.

CjTrapp, your points are good.... like I said before, the POV is something I don't address in the query for clarity reasons (think Great Gatsby narrator-- not that this book is on that scale, but it has that narration style). Your points about Jan are definitely something for me to think about... they both have such extreme and thorough character arcs that I almost want to abandon Jan in the query to her skeletal points and let Cal (the anti-hero and pivotal character) lead the action. Will be retooling tonight..... I may revert back to the original, I'm thinking I'm just being unnecessarily anxious about this and over fixing things.
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Sea » February 12th, 2010, 10:33 pm

I think your original is better too, and chances are you are just over-fretting it. I will start by saying this is not a genre I would generally read, but I'll have a go. Also, I don't know all the details here, like physical descriptions etc, so I'm making them up, just to give you the picture

The fervent screams, cheers and general raucous that accompanies the basketball state championship have disappeared with the crowd. Sweaty and defeated (?), Cal Painter stands at the edge of the almost empty court and stares transfixed at the girl who cost them the game, the girl with short brown hair damply clinging to the nape of her neck as she packs up her kit, the girl she should hate.

For everybody in Cal's hometown, number 4, Jan Bond is the enemy. Her (incredible basketball skills) are costing (or threatening to cost them) the championship (or threatening their long-held position as number one in wherever). For Cal, Jan Bond is (describe whatever it is the Cal finds so attractive about her, in the beginning ie a girl with a pretty smile, a mean dribble, and a ...).

As Cal returns home to Miles, Kentucky, where her brilliance (in what?) is the talk of the teachers, her family's wealth, the favourite topic in the general store, and her single status, the hope of all the boys in her school, all she feels is misery. Away from the spotlight, she is haunted by ennui and guilt over her effortless fortune. She longs for (whatever it is she longs for - escape) and finds it in daydreaming of Jan.

... then go on in that vein. Let me know if it helps. I just think this is more personal, closer to the action. I would avoid using words like 'hope, salvation, downfall' etc, and try to use words more specific to this unique situation.

This might end up being a bit too long. I think it really helps to write a blurb for it. You don't have to say the whole synopsis - you could leave it at the point of 'When Jan moves to Miles, Cal's fantasies are suddenly a possibility. But in all of her daydreams, she never thought about the surrounding consequences their forbidden love would bring.'

Hope this helps

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Re: Query-- Scatter, Updated (pg 2)

Post by KappaP » February 14th, 2010, 4:57 pm

Okay, I tried to make this more like a blurb and address the audience issue (I don't want it to sound like YA). If all else fails, I'm considering just straight out saying "though the protags are teenagers, the voice and theme are both adult and will connect to fans of X Y and Z." Also, I definitely also like having the first paragraph down after the blurb itself, but I do want it to be clear that they're both girls since the names are gender ambiguous and people seem to still not understand they're both girls even though there aren't any male pronouns.

[blah blah personalization]....SCATTER is a 114,000 word work of mainstream literary fiction exploring American notions of fate, individualism and community through a doomed love between two girls in small-town Kentucky.

For Cal Painter, life is a monotony of wins. She was born into wealth, inherited her family’s trademark blue eyes and drawled charm, and she’s a sharp-witted, bright-smiled siren to all the boys at school. But after eighteen years, Cal is itching to find purpose beyond the drone of effortless fortune.

The summer before her senior year, Cal finds dangerous salvation from her ennui by falling into an intense and secretive romance with Jan Bond: a shy girls’ basketball prodigy carrying the weight of a town’s championship dreams on her shoulders. For the two girls, love is a sweet escape from living under the direction of people’s expectations, but every passing day entangles them further into a purgatory between two worlds: one where the comfort and safety of community adoration costs them their individualism, and one where the golden apples of freedom and choice come with the heavy price of rejection.

When the relationship is exposed, the small town struggles to reconcile the glorified images of their hometown heroines with Cal and Jan’s starker and more human realities. Told thirty years retrospectively by Cal’s haunted and guilt-ridden best friend, SCATTER illuminates the dark beauty of young love and the devastating power of a community over its heroes.


Does this work any better? Worse?
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Re: Query-- Scatter (Lit. Fic)

Post by Holly » February 14th, 2010, 6:04 pm

it seems very good to me. I like this line toward the end: "Told thirty years retrospectively by Cal’s haunted and guilt-ridden best friend, SCATTER illuminates the dark beauty of young love and the devastating power of a community over its heroes." Good luck!

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